How to Qualify for Disability Benefits, Part 2

Posted on: June 23rd, 2015 by Mark R. Friedman

I wrote earlier on this blog about one key component of qualifying for disability benefits – proving that you meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of “disabled.”

In addition, you also must meet the eligibility requirements of each program.

There are two main financial benefits: Social Security Disability insurance (SSD / SSDI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Both are monthly cash payments, similar to the Social Security retirement benefits most people get starting in their 60’s.  If you qualify for SSI in New Jersey, you also get Medicaid.  If you qualify for SSD, then after two years you get Medicare.

SSD usually pays more than SSI, so it’s better to qualify for SSD if you can.  SSD is available to people who have worked regularly in jobs that pay FICA (Social Security / Medicare) taxes.  Most jobs pay FICA tax, but some public sector jobs do not.

Your eligibility for SSD is based on how many “work credits” you have.  You earn one work credit for every quarter of the year (i.e., three months) that you work in which you earn at least $1,220 (as of 2015).  You must have worked five years out of the past ten, and have earned a certain number of work credits based on your age.  For example, a 46-year-old person must have at least 24 credits, or 6 years of work.  Some people can also qualify for SSD based on the work history of a deceased parent, spouse or child.

If you cannot qualify for SSD, you may be eligible for SSI.  SSI eligibility is means-tested and is based on your finances.  It is generally available only to people with very limited means.  To qualify for SSI, you must have less than $2,000 in Resources (assets that are available for your support).  You must also have limited income – approximately $750 or less, although this figure can vary.  In general the more income you receive, the lower your SSI benefit.  Likewise, living in a house that someone else pays for (such as your parents) reduces your SSI benefit.

It’s very important to watch out for the $2,000 SSI Resource limit.  If you’re on SSI and at any time you have more than $2,000 in assets (with certain exceptions), you lose your SSI until the excess assets are spent down.  It can be quite difficult to get by with assets limited to $2,000, especially when the maximum SSI benefit is $764 per month.  Fortunately, there is a way to put money aside for a person on SSI.

If someone on SSI would be getting money, such as from a lawsuit, inheritance from family, gift, divorce or another source, that money should be held in a special needs trust.  A special needs trust is a legal instrument that allows money to be set aside to benefit a person with disabilities, without disqualifying them from SSI, Medicaid and other important benefits.

For more information on qualifying for and keeping government benefits, call or email FriedmanLaw today.

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Homepage photo: Cows grazing at Meadowbrook Farm, Bernardsville, NJ by Siddharth Mallya. October 23, 2012.
Interior photo: Somerset hills pastoral scene by Lawrence Friedman.